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Getting Energized

Time to think "out of the box" in the quest for energy independence.


I don't exactly remember when it was, probably six or seven years ago, but there I was making my annual pilgrimage on the interstate between El Paso and San Antonio, and just enjoyin' my eyeballin' of the countryside, when I got quite a shock.

There, to the north of the pike and as far as the eye could see, were dazzling white towers sitting atop just about every mesa and butte within seeing distance; they seemed to go on forever. They were windmills — more properly known today as "wind generators," named in the collective sense, a "wind-generator farm."

Now, I like eyeballin' this hill and that when I'm travelin', and also trying to spot elusive critters wherever they may be found. But not much was to be seen for that oh-so-long stretch of highway, so I started analyzing what I could take in and comparing the wind farm to the ancient oil wells scattered along the countryside. Here is what I noticed.

First off, the wind towers seemed to be situated every 50 yards or so in long rows. Each tower sat on its own cleared area, the pad being totally devoid of any vegetation. Each individual pad was connected by a somewhat wide road, also void of growth, and scars upon Ma Earth were rampant.

In comparison, the oil wells, some of which were still pumping, were located every quarter-mile or so. The two-track connecting them and the pads upon which they sat was all but grown over with greenery of some sort.

Now I asked myself, which would I prefer to dot the countryside of my own Southern New Mexico, and which would have the least impact on critters and ecology? I quickly concluded that I'd rather have the oil rigs scattered about any day!

Oh, I admit there are attendant problems to both energy producers. Besides the numerous scars and horizon-clutter from wind farms, I have read several reports that hundreds of thousands of birds and other winged creatures are killed each year as they are hit by the propellers. (According to a 2002 study, however, these deaths represent less than one percent of all human-caused bird casualties, and even the Audubon Society says wind generators are preferable to the pollution from old-fashioned coal-fired power plants.)

But the oil-rigs have a major problem too, and that is the constant leakage and attendant pollution of Ma Earth surrounding the pumps and pipelines. Not all of them leak, mind you, but a goodly portion do, and that too is unacceptable.

I've hunted amongst the oil pumpers not a few times over in eastern New Mexico, and from what I've observed, wildlife and bird life seemed to get along quite nicely, thank you. There were deer, antelope, quail and waterfowl in abundance, and no dead birds lying about everywhere!

If I was the state dictator, I'd mandate that oil wells, instead of wind farms, be in place, and I'd also mandate that they leak nary a drop of black gold.

That brings me to chasing a rabbit for a bit; I'm plumb flabbergasted at all of those folks who oppose "big oil" and are pleading for alternative energy sources including wind generation.

For my own self, I do drive two four-wheel-drive vehicles as well as a foot-powered mountain bike. While I recognize that I (we) need "big oil," I also have suggestions for our independence from that giant, because I believe it has a stranglehold on all of us that goes beyond free enterprise, and I don't much care for all of the crude we import.

We need to become self-sufficient and independent, yet friendly to Ma Earth and her critters.

I'm plumb set agin' wind farms, but not wind power. Ranchers have been harnessing the wind to pump water for decades, and now they have begun to harness the sun and its energies to pump liquid from the ground.

So I'm for homeowners installing private, smallish wind generators that would produce both water and electricity for dwellings, and I'd be for the government subsidizing us to afford it. That goes for solar energy, too.


But there's another vast energy source that lurks beneath Ma Earth, and it is abundant here in our area and in southern Arizona, and that is COAL!

While I was flat on my back in the hospital recovering from that "heart thing," I happened to view a public-education program and it was about coal as an alternative-energy source and how technology had finally caught up with the 21st century. It seems coal can be mined and converted to oil and gas very cleanly and for a fraction the cost of petroleum. Coal reserves are in huge supplies, which would make the USA energy independent for years.

There is a very interesting report that you can go to at www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/05/coal_report.html that reveals that the technology is on the threshold of being implemented. (The report is from the Center for American Progress, a "progressive" think tank headed by a former Bill Clinton chief of staff — not exactly my usual reading matter, I confess!) It talks about Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, which allows new coal-burning power plants to more efficiently capture and store carbon dioxide, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Like any other technology, this cleaner coal burning is not without its costs and pitfalls. Let's face it, nothing comes without a price or without compromising to an extent. If we are going to be energy-independent, though, then compromise we must, and I believe coal energy is the best alternative.

Just think, no more Middle East conflicts, no more South American annoyances. We could tell 'em all to go stick it.

So why aren't we converting to coal and on the road to self-sufficiency? (Montana is taking the lead in this endeavor but they have run into opposition.) I have a theory: Big oil is discouraging government from doing so, and the so-called environmental movement is still back in the last century with their thinking towards coal. That means, whether or not they realize it, both factions are in bed together, so to speak.

Let me add this: I'm not against using petroleum and all of its benefits as long as the supply can be had within North America and without raping the land in the process. We still need oil and gas until we can transition to other sources, but the progressive in me says it's time to get off our fannies and begin to look at coal, wind and the sun in a more serious manner — down to earth, ya know, not some pie-in-the-sky idealism full of hypocrisy.

I've purposely left out methanol as an alternative. Already problems are arising with its production. Farmers are selling corn and other fuel makers for the making of this gasoline alternative and the supply is greatly diminishing for feeding both livestock and people!

A secondary effect is that land set aside in the soil-bank program, which is benefiting wildlife, is now being brought back into production to be utilized for methanol. Not a good situation. Because of this, as supply diminishes, you could see food costs skyrocketing where the use of these grains are concerned.

Cellulose methanol may be the way to go, but that avenue is still in its infancy and we may have to scrutinize it very carefully before leaping off of the bridge.

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you out there.


Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors exclusively for Desert Exposure.


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